Can it really be this easy?
That's the question that the Boston Bruins have to be asking themselves after dominating the first two games of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins. All the Bruins have done so far is outscore the Penguins by a cumulative 9-1 score.
Nobody would have believed that before the start of the series, including Bruins head coach Claude Julien, center Patrice Bergeron or captain Zdeno Chara.
Not only were the Penguins the top seed in the Eastern Conference, they had beaten the Bruins in all three of their regular-season meetings.
The reversal of form has been dramatic and supremely effective.
After starting the series with two overpowering wins on the road, the Bruins get to play the next two games at home. No team has lost the first two games at home in the conference final since the current playoff structure was instituted in 1993 and gone on to win the series.
The Bruins have taken their game to another level. Nothing has been decided yet, but they have the look of a team that is the favorite to take home the Stanley Cup.
They were good in a 3-0 Game 1 shutout. However, they outclassed the Penguins in every measurable way during their 6-1 victory in Game 2.
Boston had the look of a team that was fully confident when it took the ice. It knew the Penguins would come out fired up and try to dominate the game in the first five minutes so they would be in a position to blow out the Bruins.
However, the Bruins didn't have to weather much of a storm. Brad Marchand found himself with the puck on his stick when Sidney Crosby couldn't control it at the blue line. Racing at full speed, Marchand picked the top corner and put the Penguins behind from the start.
From there, the Bruins took advantage of Pittsburgh mistakes and made some brilliant passing plays to build an overpowering lead.
Nathan Horton scored after a Bruins power play ended. Rookie phenom Torey Krug kept the puck in the Pittsburgh zone at the blue line.
David Krejci, the leading scorer in the playoffs, then finished off a beautiful play that saw Milan Lucic pass the puck through his legs to Horton, who set the puck up perfectly for the wide-open Krejci.
If the Penguins had any hope, it was after Brandon Sutter fired a wrister past Tuukka Rask in the final minute of the first period. But instead of taking momentum into the locker room, the Bruins took it back seconds later when Marchand put a shot into the top corner past the outstretched glove of the forgotten goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury.
There was still 40 minutes to play, but it was game, set and match for the Bruins.
They owned the game because they had the better goaltending, the better defense—and an offense that, though it so often looked pedestrian throughout the season, was simply explosive Monday night.
Rask was just as sharp as the rest of his teammates, stopping 26 of 27 shots. His consistent play has not been lost on Julien.
“He seems real comfortable right now. The puck seems big to him,” Julien told the media after the game. “You’ve got to ride that goaltender when he’s like that.”
With such domination in the first two games, the Bruins would appear to have one potential problem when the series gets back to Boston: overconfidence.
It looks like they can do anything they want against the Penguins. They've created plays easily in the offensive zone while Rask and the defense have kept their opponents from putting the puck in the back of the net.
Why shouldn't the Bruins feel like they can do the same thing to the Pens when the series switches venues?
Julien won't let the Bruins' heads get too big. He will do everything he can to make sure his players continue to respect the Penguins before they step on the ice. The former Jack Adams winner has seen the Bruins come back from 0-2 deficits twice in 2011 when they won the Stanley Cup (against the Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks), and he knows Pittsburgh is capable of doing the same thing.
While overconfidence will have to be quelled, the Bruins should go into the game knowing they can take advantage of the Penguins defense. They have had wide-open looks at the goal in the first two games, and they took advantage of those opportunities.
Krejci and Horton cashed in on them in Game 1. Marchand, Krejci and Bergeron capitalized on the leaky Pittsburgh defense in Game 2.
Tomas Vokoun started Game 2, but he was pulled by Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma after he gave up the first three goals. Fleury gave up the final three goals.
Neither goalie was very good, but the Pittsburgh defense has been the biggest problem. It does not appear to be an easy issue to correct in less than 48 hours.
The Bruins will take their victories, stack them and try to advance. They are confident and operating at peak efficiency. It's fair to think that they are the best team left in the tournament.
The Chicago Blackhawks also hold a 2-0 advantage in the Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings, but their victories came at home. The Bruins have built their lead in one of the toughest buildings in the league.
If they can keep putting together games like their first two in Pittsburgh, it should just be a matter of time before the Bruins bring home their second Stanley Cup in three years.